Auburn Engineering’s Academic Excellence Program kicks off 25th Anniversary Year

Published: Sep 24, 2021 8:15 PM

By Cassie Montgomery

The Engineering Academic Excellence Program (AEP) officially kicked off its 25th anniversary year with a celebration held on the Gavin Garden outside the Brown-Kopel Center on Friday. In front of an audience of nearly 300 alumni, students and supporters, Christopher B. Roberts, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, alongside Kenneth Kelly, 1990 graduate and chair of the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council, welcomed guests to the celebration and set the stage for an evening of reflection and excitement for the year ahead.

“What started as the summer Minority Introduction to Engineering Program and grew into the Minority Engineering Program in 1996 has blossomed into the Academic Excellence Program,” Roberts said. “AEP has played an integral role in the recruitment, retention and development of underrepresented students here in the College of Engineering for the past 25 years.”

Kelly, the first African American chair of the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council, emphasized the impact that AEP has had on the experience of Auburn’s underrepresented engineering student body.

“To date, more than a thousand African American engineering undergraduates have completed a bachelor’s program at Auburn, and with the support of AEP and the program’s dedicated advocates, I know the future holds even greater accomplishments,” Kelly said.

The program was started in 1996 under the guidance of newly appointed director Dennis Weatherby. Cordelia Brown, current AEP director, and several AEP alumni reflected on Weatherby’s vision for the program.

“We are all here today because the late Dr. Dennis Weatherby had the foresight to see the value of a program like AEP. Though he passed away in 2007, his role in establishing the program continues to have a profound impact on generations of Auburn graduates,” Brown said. “I am the fourth director of AEP and I like to think that we all have worked together to propel the program forward for the benefit of our students.”

Current students and alumni alike addressed attendees, sharing what the program has meant to them over the years. One such student was Xavion Fleetwood, a senior in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“As a Black male, I take a lot of pride in myself and the work I do, yet it was not until entering my major classes sophomore year that I found I would need assistance to accomplish my goals. It was at this moment that I began to unearth the benefits of AEP through Auburn University,” Fleetwood said. “This family-like environment filled with diverse individuals and perspectives, along with ample resources, watered the seed that would allow me to grow as a scholar and leader on campus, preparing me for the career field of my choice.”

For K-Rob Thomas, ’01 civil engineering, and Jim Heilbron, ’94 and ’96 civil engineering, the night offered an opportunity to acknowledge the impactful support of philanthropic partners such as Alabama Power. For more than a decade, Alabama Power has been a signature sponsor of AEP and, according to Heilbron, it’s in no small part due to the quality of students that Auburn Engineering graduates.

“This transformational program allows us within the industry to recruit the next generation of engineering leaders,” said Heilbron, senior vice president and senior production manager at Alabama Power. “It is pivotal for us to enhance diversity within engineering. A diverse workforce makes everyone better, and the students graduating from Auburn Engineering and those who have participated in AEP are making the world a better place.”

Thomas, Southern Power Company’s vice president of origination and acquisition, was an AEP student in the program’s early years and sees a bright future for AEP students.

“Being a part of the Minority Engineering Program within its early years was extremely inspiring,” Thomas said. “Under Dr. Weatherby’s leadership, I saw a tremendous increase in minority students enrolling and succeeding, even just during the time I was in school. The lineage of the program Dr. Weatherby started has continued to do great things. Dr. Shirley Harris, Dr. Cheryl Seals and now, Dr. Cordelia Brown have done a tremendous job as leaders of the program, and I look forward to what the next 25 years hold.”

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery,, 334.844.3668
AEP 25th Anniversary Celebration

AEP 25th Anniversary Celebration

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